A Revisionist’s History

A voice finds Paulo in the darkness.
Sleep, baby, at grandpa’s house
his mother’s voice coos to him,
carried on a melody
fused to the cells
of the Faustino family,
one that cannot be learned,
only released
when called upon to soothe.

He refuses to open his eyes,
instead focuses
on the tip of her finger,
tissue soft, spinning in his temple.
If ever he knew contentment,
this was it.

The bells of the Blessed Savior ring
in the distance as he sinks further
into the dark. Another voice enters.
His son repeating louder,
“Father. Father. Are you listening?”

Paulo opens his eyes, sees his son,
Vasco, now a young man.
“Did you hear me?
I’ll only be gone for the summer.
Well, unless the internship goes well,
in which case it might be longer. But
I’ll be home before you know it.”

Paulo remembers his son
from years past,
hair disheveled from sleep,
bounding to the door to greet him
after his shift at the bakery,
the impact of their bodies
blasting hidden grains of flour
from the folds of his clothes.

He nods in acknowledgement
and pours them both a drink.

The whiskey doesn’t last long,
its last swig spinning
on the glass bottom of the bottle
nested in the sand.

From the beach
in the shade of the condo they shared,
he and his son spent many evenings
watching the sunlight die
in glorious colors over the water.

Paulo would entertain him
with stories of Sister Maria
and the happy times he spent with Diana
before she passed.

The train station
was always his favorite.

The liquor spins
in the front of his mind.
He lays back to rest,
center himself with the calming surf.
Vasco’s heavy breath
punctuates the silence
between waves.

“I’m going for a quick swim.
Want to join me?”

Paulo weakly rolls his chin
side to side, careful not to upset
the newfound balance in his head.
He brings his fingers to his temples,
spinning them counter to his mind,
and allows the radiant warmth
of the sand to absorb him in sleep.

Seconds become minutes
and beyond.
Paulo exhales,
notices how much better
his head feels moments before
dread twists in his gut.

He shoots up, darts his head
back and forth
scanning for Vasco as he shouts
his name. Only the steady beat
of the surf replies.

On his feet, he sprints
the path of Vasco’s clothes
to the foot of the water,
calls again for his son.

A floating shape catches his eye
twenty yards offshore
and a raging fist of bile
punches its way into his throat
as he dives in towards it.

He flails wildly, calling to Vasco
in choked spurts
as he tries to keep his head
above the water to see.

Seconds later he’s on top of it.
Vasco is floating face down,
bobbing with each wave
that rolls over him.

Paulo screams, pulls him over
onto his back. His face is purple
and bloated, the life drained
from him long before.
He wraps an arm around his body
and kicks with everything he has
back to shore.

Vasco grows lighter by the second,
slipping his hold with ease.
He looks back
and Vasco’s skin has become sand,
grains sifting off him
into the rolling waves.

With a final panicked effort,
he reaches the shallows,
plants his feet
to lift him from the water.

As he rises, the form of his son,
now sand, slides through his grip
and Paulo can only watch
as the grains of him
float down and out of view.
His son, like his mother before,
is gone.

He staggers out of the water
and collapses onto the beach.
Like fire under his skin,
he spits and curses,
calling out all cowardly gods
still careless enough to listen.
His hand balls into a fist,
strikes his own face again and again
until there is only the black.

When Paulo finally comes to,
the sun is high
and a breeze sings in the hollow
of his ears.
His face throbs.
Looking out at the water,
he half expects the nightmare
to have a happy ending
and see Vasco standing there.

Only the horizon stares back.